Sunday, January 15, 2017

War Like an Egyptian

Film: Cleopatra (1934)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Who was Hollywood’s greatest Cleopatra? The role is almost always associated initially with Elizabeth Taylor thanks to the massive 1963 epic film. In some respects, the association of Taylor with the role has as much to do with the massive production and incredible amount of money spent as it does with the movie itself. The question I had for the 1934 version of Cleopatra is whether or not Claudette Colbert could do anything to make me forget Taylor playing the Queen of the Nile. I’ve always been a bigger fan of Taylor than Colbert for starters. Colbert was a good actress, but was often put in roles where she had to be all that is woman, something that I don’t think she was built for. And really, Cleopatra is that sort of a role.

Much like the later epic, Cleopatra in this earlier version is a combination of two of Shakespeare’s plays: Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. Where the later epic essentially does both plays in all of their glory (and thus runs somewhat over four hours), this version is highly truncated, giving us the meeting between Cleo and Caesar, the assassination of Caesar, and the romance between Antony and Cleopatra in a relatively spare 101 minutes.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

White Guilt

Film: The Help
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Like it or not, The Help works in part because of white guilt. There’s not a good way around this. It’s the sort of movie that is designed to piss off white supremacists and to make liberal white people like it based specifically on the subject matter regardless of the quality of the movie itself. Well, as it happens, I am a liberal white person and in this case, the white guilt doesn’t work on me. That being the case, it’s a good thing that The Help is a damn fine movie in its own right.

This is a Civil Rights Era movie, and it takes place in Jackson, Mississippi, which means it’s not just going to be about the Civil Rights Era. Young Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) has just graduated from Ole Miss and returned home. She’s also secured herself a job at the local paper, taking over a weekly column concerning household hints. Skeeter’s goal is to write for a living, and she sees this as her foot in the door. While at her friend Elizabeth’s (Ahna O’Reilly) house, she asks if she might consult Elizabeth’s maid, Aibileen (Viola Davis).

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Wednesday Horror: [•REC]

Film: [•REC]
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Found footage is a hard sell for me. While I think it’s possible to tell a good story in the found footage style, I think a lot of times the style gets in the way of the story being told. With [•REC] (or [REC], [Rec] or simply REC) we have film that is doubly controversial. It’s found footage, something that doesn’t always work. It’s also a film that hits that zombie/non-zombie dividing line. Are we looking at a zombie apocalypse or is this a 28 Days Later-style infection?

Regardless, it’s not difficult to see where [•REC] takes its inspiration: zombie movies and zombie-inspired movies like the aforementioned 28 Days Later. It’s also clearly inspired by the sort of television magazine show that feature a reporter and camera operator going on location for local interest stories. That’s the case here, with our television presenter Angela Vidal (real-life television presenter Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso) going on location to a local firehouse to see what a typical night is like for the firefighters.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Springing a Leak

Film: Houseboat
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

I went into Houseboat with high hopes. I knew it was a goofy little rom-com, but it stars Cary Grant and Sophia Loren, so I had real hopes for it. In fact, I knew nothing more about it than it had Grant and Loren in it, and thus was almost certainly going to involve a romance. Grant did a few movies like Charade that were less comedic, but he also excelled in light comedy. So we’ve got a movie with one of the great light comic actors in film history paired with one of the great beauties of the era in a light romantic comedy. What the hell went wrong?

Yeah, it’s going to be one of those movies, one that is ultimately disappointing because of a great deal of potential and a story that never takes the bat off its shoulder. Tom Winters (Grant) works for the U.S. State Department. He returns from Europe because of the sudden death of his estranged wife. As it happens, Tom has also been estranged from his three children, David (Paul Peterson), Elizabeth (Mimi Gibson), and Robert (Charles Herbert). Tom’s in-laws want to take the kids. Of particular interest in this arrangement is Tom’s sister-in-law Carolyn (Martha Hyer), whose own marriage is on the rocks. Tom, however, decides that it’s better for him to take charge of the children despite not having seen them for years. And yes, wackiness ensues.